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Will Healthcare Legislation Provide Answers To The New Jersey Drug Problem

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Several months ago it was reported that New York state legislators were proposing new health insurance legislation to fight a rapid rise in heroin and opioid drug abuse. Now the state of New Jersey finds itself facing a similar spike in drug overdose deaths and treatment facility admissions due to increased heroin and opiate prevalence. Much as their struggling neighbor to the north did, New Jersey is looking into healthcare and insurance reform as a method for slowing the momentum of this dangerous trend.

New Jersey Drug Problem Statistics

According to NJ Spotlight, New Jersey’s concern over statewide heroin and opioid abuse is well-deserved, as the figures show it to be more than a matter of perception. Data from the state Department of Human Services shows 32,607 treatment admissions in 2013, both inpatient and outpatient, for heroin or opiate addiction – more than a 33% increase from 2008. Those 32,607 heroin and opiate admissions accounted for nearly half of all drug and alcohol admissions last year.

To better understand the growing havoc heroin and opioid addiction is wreaking on New Jersey, focus on the eye of the storm: Ocean County. There were nearly 4,000 treatment admissions for heroin and opiate addiction in Ocean County last year, a 130% increase from 2008. It was the largest increase in the state. Of all drug and alcohol related admissions in the county, heroin and opiate accounted for 54%, which again, was the largest percentage of any county in New Jersey.

A small increase in treatment admissions wouldn’t necessarily indicate a surge in use; it could simply mean that a few more people are getting help. But when such dramatic increases in admissions are simultaneously flanked by an increase in drug-related deaths, the story becomes clear. That is exactly what has been happening in New Jersey. In 2011, there were 131 deaths from heroin overdose in New Jersey, more than a 25% increase from 2007. Fast-forward two years and that number more than quadruples, with 557 heroin-related deaths in 2013.

Proposed Legislation Aimed At Insurance Providers

As numbers like these shed light on the depths of the addiction crisis in New Jersey, state legislators have proposed a new package of bills geared toward revamping the state’s approach to drug addiction and abuse. The 21-bill package focuses more on prevention and treatment than arrests and jail time. “There is certainly a law enforcement component to this, but we can’t arrest our way out of it,” said New Jersey State Senator Joseph F. Vitale, who is chairman of the senate’s Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.  When there is a demand, there is always going to be a supply.”

Vitale and other members from both parties of the state’s legislature presented a package in September that includes several insurance-related proposals to curb the rate of addiction in New Jersey. One of the bills would require health insurance providers to cover behavioral healthcare services like inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs when a healthcare provider deems it medically necessary. Other bills include supplemental efforts, such as increasing Medicaid reimbursements for behavioral healthcare, and requiring doctors and other prescribers to participate in the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program, which would help identify potentially dangerous prescription drugs.

Curing the Cause and Fighting the Stigma

If the proposed bills are enacted into law, there could be multiple large-scale benefits. The hope is that these legislations will help thousands of New Jersey citizens truly understand and overcome their addictions, while simultaneously educating the community on the severity of addiction and eroding the negative stigma attached to addiction and mental illness.

As Vitale describes, addiction is as serious a medical condition as any other life-threatening disease, and should be treated with the same reverence and sincerity. “When someone suffers from heart disease or cancer or diabetes, they aren’t told that there isn’t a hospital bed or an outpatient facility,” Vitale said. “We talk freely and openly about our surgeries, our hip replacements, our knee replacements and we even show off our scars. But rarely if we ever openly discuss an addiction or mental illness.”

Insurance companies may not be helping break the stigma of addiction through their current practices. Fortunately, New Jersey legislators like Vitale are hoping to flip the script. If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin, opiate or other substance abuse issues, please don’t let the fear of insurance constraints or a negative public perception prevent you from seeking help you deserve. Contact The Watershed today at 1-800-861-1768.




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